Jeff Regan: The Radio Show
~ Introduction To Old-Time Radio ~
Jack Webb (1948), Frank Graham (1949-1950)
Violent. Insubordinate. Caustic. Hair-triggered. Not words that one normally associates with Jack Webb, if one only knows him as the straight-laced Joe Friday of Dragnet, but if you don't know Jeff Regan, Investigator, you don't know Jack.
Jeff Regan is chief investigator for International Detective Agency, an agency owned by Anthony J. Lyon (hence the series often being referred to as 'The Lyon's Eye'). Anthony Lyon is an anything-for-a-buck huckster who will take any case, as long as the money is there, and he doesn't have to get out of bed before ten. The legwork is invariably passed on to Regan, who invariably resents his boss's lack of discretion and moral scruples, and never misses an opportunity to tell him so, as in the episode 'The Gambler and His Ladies':
"Don't you ever check into things?"
~ "I do the general work; you get the details."
"Yeah, you drag a wet rag over the fifty, and if the ink stays on, we've got a client!"
Jeff Regan shared several traits with Sergeant Joe Friday of Dragnet, mostly his toughness and dogged determination, and his absolute intolerance for pretense, and for anyone trying to give him the run-around.
Many more characteristics set Regan apart from Friday, in particular Regan's willingness to dislike on sight, and his unwillingness to conceal this distaste. His propensity for speaking his mind rubs wrong people the wrong way, which as often as not causes him to come out on the losing end of a fight. As tough as nails and full of determination, however, a beating is never enough to stop him.
Another distinction between the two characters is Jeff Regan's preference for working solo. A confirmed lone wolf, there is only one extant episode, 'The Lady With The Golden Hair', in which Regan works with another operative. Of note is that in this episode, Regan's partner is played by Barton Yarborough, who would portray Webb's Dragnet partner, Sergeant Ben Romero, less than a year later.
Jeff Regan, Investigator may have been radio's pinnacle of the hard-boiled school of tough similes and taut metaphors, brawny writing approached only by other Jack Webb programs such as Pat Novak For Hire and Pete Kelly's Blues. While the stories never utilized outright plagiarism, there was little doubt that the writers of Jeff Regan were fans and followers of legendary crime author Raymond Chandler, telling their tales in the same hard manner:
From Raymond Chandler's 'Pearls Are A Nuisance' (1939):
I led sharply with my right and it landed flush on his chin. It seemed to me a good solid punch, but it scarcely moved him. I then put two hard left jabs into his neck and landed a second hard right at the side of his rather wide nose. He snorted and hit me in the solar plexus.
I bent over and took hold of the room with both hands and spun it. When I had it nicely spinning I gave it a full swing and hit myself on the back of the head with the floor. This made me lose my balance temporarily and while I was thinking about how to regain it a wet towel began to slap at my face and I opened my eyes. The face of Henry Eichelberger was close to mine and bore a certain appearance of solicitude.
From 'The Lonesome Lady'; Jeff Regan, Investigator (July 28, 1948):
"I stopped a minute because I thought I heard somebody opening the doctor's door. I turned around to take a look when I felt something brush my arm. The stairway suddenly turned upside down and began to walk up me. There was a lot of noise all around and I was trying to yell for somebody to shut it off; It got louder and louder and louder. It was then that I decided this wasn't routine...
I was lying on a leather couch in a white room. A tall, thin man with a hooked nose seemed to be running things; he was waving an arm at a vague crowd of people near the door. Then, someone I couldn't see shoved a bottle under my nose."
Like many of Raymond Chandler's stories, these are not tales of exceptional moments in the lives of ordinary people; they are gritty stories of the typical, and often final, moments in the lives of exceptional people: exceptionally tough, exceptionally determined, exceptionally mercenary, exceptionally bad people.
Chandler would have approved.
The Frank Graham Era:
Jack Webb would leave Jeff Regan, Investigator at the end of 1948, after starring in 24 episodes. Reportedly, Webb was looking for more money, and the network didn't want to comply. The CBS executives may have felt confident that they had a big enough slice of the private investigator pie, and could risk losing Jeff Regan. Their Adventures of Sam Spade was one of the strongest shows on the air, and surprise hit The Adventures of Philip Marlowe had debuted just a few months earlier, in September 1948.
We must remember that despite its cult status among today’s OTR fans, in its day Jeff Regan, Investigator was only a regional program, airing on the Columbia Pacific Network. In late 1949, shortly after Frank Graham's debut as Regan, there were rumours that the show might go national, but it would remain a West Coast program throughout its entire run.
Still, one has to wonder if CBS rued letting Jack Webb get away. His relationship with NBC began less than six months later with the premiere of Dragnet, and would last more than twenty-five years, producing a string of hit shows for the network both in radio and on television.
After Webb's departure, Jeff Regan went into hiatus for most of 1949, but returned to the air in October of that year. According to CBS publicity, sixty actors were auditioned to fill Jack Webb's shoes (whether this statement passes the 'smell test' is open to debate; it does have the ring of show-biz hype). Regardless, on October 5 1949, Frank Graham went on the air as Jeff Regan in the episode 'The Lady By The Fountain'. Except for a brief period in the spring of 1950 (when Paul Dubov assumed the role, due to Graham’s illness), Frank Graham would play the role until his death in September 1950.
This incarnation of Jeff Regan could be described as inconsistent at best, and at times the show seemed to be Jeff Regan, Investigator in name only. At its peak it was a solid program that, while lacking Jack Webb's razor-edge delivery, would still satisfy the most discerning listeners. At its weakest, it was almost cartoonish.
It is often the star who takes the blame for the success or failure of a show, but besides a new Regan, the latter series also had an almost completely new cast and crew. In fact, producer and director Sterling Tracy and musician Richard Aurandt seem to be the only people connected with the bulk of both the Webb and the Graham eras. E. Jack Neuman, the writer who provided most of the hard-boiled Jack Webb scripts, would be on hand for only a few episodes of the Graham series before moving on to such mystery shows as Suspense, Yours Truly Johnny Dollar, Night Beat, and The Lineup.
Perhaps the biggest change, and the most indicative of the show's new direction, would be the recasting of 'The Lyon' himself. In the Jack Webb series, Regan's self-centred, self-important, and self-serving employer was expertly played, first by Wilms Herbert, then Herb Butterfield. Listeners could easily identify with the character, as many could see elements of their own boss reflected in Anthony Lyon. Listening to the weekly verbal sparring between Regan and Lyon, they could take some satisfaction, via proxy, from listening to Jeff Regan verbally dismantling his boss.
Thus, the choice of Frank Nelson to play Anthony J. Lyon in the new series may go down as the strangest casting decision in radio. Throughout the 1940s Nelson had appeared almost exclusively on comedy programs, and had a reputation for a very broad style of humour. Even during his stint on Jeff Regan, Investigator, Frank Nelson was still a regular on such shows as Our Miss Brooks, My Favorite Husband, and Jack Benny's Lucky Strike Program. Certainly listeners familiar with his very distinctive voice (i.e. most of America) would expect him to be playing a comedic character, even within the crime genre, and on that dubious level, Nelson didn’t disappoint.
While the latter Jeff Regan, Investigator may have been the weak sister of the series, it is still a solid program that is capable of producing some entertaining radio stories. Heard in conjunction with the earlier series, however, it is impossible not to compare the Webb and the Graham shows, and the latter may disappoint. For this reason, our recommendation for listening to Jeff Regan, Investigator is to listen to the Jack Webb episodes, leave it alone for a month or two, then come back and listen to the Frank Graham series.
To listen to Jeff Regan episodes starring Jack Webb, click here.
To hear the second episode of Jeff Regan (not found in the main collection), 'The Prodigal Daughter', click here.
To listen to the final Jack Webb episode of Jeff Regan (also not found in the main collection), 'The Man Who Lived By The Sea', click here.
To hear actor Frank Graham taking on the role of Jeff Regan, after Jack Webb had departed to create the role of Sgt. Joe Friday of 'Dragnet', click here.
For two more episodes with Graham as Jeff Regan, not found in the main collection, click here.
If you would like to hear more of the hard-boiled side of Jack Webb, we recommend the ABC series Pat Novak For Hire, Mutual's Johnny Madero, Pier 23, and NBC's jazz-age Pete Kelly's Blues.
To view the entire ITOTR collection, click here.
OTR researcher Stewart Wright has done extensive research on Jeff Regan, Investigator, and shares this research in several informative and entertaining articles. Of note is his broadcast log, which contains not only a list of episodes and personnel, but also a thorough history of the series both in front of and behind the mic, myths and truths about Jeff Regan, and much more.
Two other interesting articles by Mr. Wright, published on the website of the Metro Washington Old Time Radio Club, are Debunking The Myths About Jeff Regan and A Whimsical Look At The Many Aliases Of Jeff Regan, a study of the reuse of Jeff Regan scripts by other series. (One example of such a retelling, by the series Yours Truly, Johnny Dollar starring Bob Bailey, can be found on the ITOTR 'The Prodigal Daughter' page linked below).
Every Old Time Radio fan owes a debt of gratitude to researchers like Stewart Wright, who are dedicated enough to carry out this extensive original research, and gracious enough to share it with the OTR community at large.
Jeff Regan in the ITOTR Collection:
Jack Webb, Wilms Herbert,
Eve McVeagh, Ted (Theodore) Von Eltz,
Lou Krugman, Betty Lou Gerson
July 17, 1948
The Gambler And His Ladies
Jack Webb, Herb Butterfield,
Mary Lansing, Marvin Miller, Pat McGeehan,
Laurette Fillbrandt, Jack Petruzzi, Yvonne Peattie
December 11th, 1948
(exclusive of 'fair use' citing of Pearls Are A Nuisance and
public domain quotes from Jeff Regan, Investigator)
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